Responding to sharp criticism from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., over the leaked White House immigration proposal, President Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough pushed back this morning on “This Week,” saying it was up to Congress to produce immigration reform to ensure the president’s proposal would not be sent to Capitol Hill.
“He [Marco Rubio] says its ‘dead on arrival’ if it’s proposed. Well let’s make sure that it doesn’t have to be proposed,” McDonough said in an interview with ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl. “Let’s make sure that that group up there, the ‘Gang of Eight,’ makes the good progress on these efforts as much as they say they want to.”
McDonough said the leaked proposal, reported this weekend by USA Today, reflected an effort to prepare for the immigration reform discussion, but was not a final plan from the White House.
“We’ve not proposed anything to Capitol Hill yet. We’ve got a bill, we’re doing exactly what the president said we would do last month in Las Vegas, which is we’re preparing,” McDonough said. “We’re going to be ready. We have developed each of these proposals so we have them in a position so that we can succeed.”
After the White House proposal was leaked, Sen. Rubio, who is currently part of a bipartisan group at work on legislation to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, quickly issued a statement saying, “President Obama’s leaked immigration proposal is disappointing to those of us working on a serious solution. The president’s bill repeats the failures of past legislation.”
Rubio added that if it was actually proposed, the leaked proposal would be “dead on arrival” in Congress. But McDonough said he would not engage in a political “scrum” with Rubio, saying the White House will continue to work with Republican and Democratic senators and their staffs on immigration reform.
“I’m not going to engage, as I said, in some kind of back and forth,” McDonough said. “What I am going to do is make sure that our team is doing exactly what the president has demanded us to do, and what he said to the country in the State of the Union the other night, which is we have to make progress on immigration reform. We should enact this this year, and the president will continue to work with the team to make sure that happens.”
Rep. Paul Ryan, who appeared on “This Week” following McDonough, said that the White House leaking the proposal has “set things in the wrong direction” and added that it was “counterproductive” in terms of eventually coming to an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform.
“The question that we always have to ask ourselves, particularly with this White House, is the president looking for a partisan advantage or is he looking for a bipartisan law?,” Ryan asked. “And by putting these details out without a guest worker program, without addressing future flow, by giving advantage to those who cut in front of line for immigrants who came here legally, not dealing with border security adequately, that tells us that he’s looking for a partisan advantage and not a bipartisan solution.”
Just days ago, Ryan had praised President Obama’s remarks on immigration reform in his State of the Union address.
“I did think that his words were measured and productive in the State of the Union,” Ryan said on Sunday. “But putting this – leaking this out does set things in the wrong direction.”
During his interview, McDonough also responded to the stalled confirmation of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, calling it a “grave concern” and suggesting it could endanger national security.
“We want to make sure that we have… those guys sitting in the chairs working,” McDonough said. “Because I don’t want there to have been something missed because of this hang-up here in Washington.”